The Rio Grande Valley’s economic recovery from the COVID-19 crisis will be prolonged. It could take 12-to-18 months, at the minimum, said leading bankers and economic development specialists.
They say the recovery from the widespread business shutdowns this spring will stretch well into 2021. Recovery will also be dependent on one key factor.
“It’s all going to depend on how we contain COVID,” said David Deanda, the president of Lone Star National Bank. “It’ll take 18 months to fully recover if we follow the rules of social distancing.”
Harlingen Economic Development Corporation CEO Raudel Garza affirmed the need to keep COVID spread at manageable levels.
“We can’t have additional shutdowns (due to COVID) if we want to have a faster recovery,” Garza said. “It all depends on people following CDC guidelines.”
Initial statistics show the Valley is tracking better than the state in COVID-19 cases, but lagging in the rate of testing. The Texas Department of State Health Services reported that the number of new COVID state cases increased by 187 percent from early April to mid-May. In that same time period, new coronavirus cases in the Valley grew by 133 percent.
In testing, the state average in May was just above two percent. The Valley’s average as tied to its population was below one percent as testing sites opened in Starr, Hidalgo and Cameron counties. The University of Texas Rio Grande Valley School of Medicine is working with area communities to open more testing sites across the region that offer widespread public access.
Economic recovery may come in stops and starts. Efforts are underway globally to develop a vaccine. Therapies to stymie but not cure the virus are being developed. Those two factors are key to increasing consumer confidence to return to public places and bring back lost restaurants, and business in retail and leisure.
Ongoing infrastructure and public construction projects, such as the building of the new Hidalgo County Courthouse, will help the regional economy during the transition period.
Area EDCs and chambers are trying to do their part in assisting local small businesses. The Harlingen EDC has established a $1-million emergency loan program. It helps local businesses that missed out on federal government programs set up after the outbreak. The Weslaco EDC has also set up a similar loan and grant program for small businesses in the Mid-Valley city.
“The growing economy in Weslaco has based its success on the traditions set by our small businesses,” said Juan J. Serrano, the EDC board president. “It is essential that we help them survive this pandemic.”
Area chambers are also doing their part to bolster small businesses during the pandemic. The Rio Grande Valley Hispanic Chamber of Commerce has held webinars connecting small business people to the Small Business Administration and others entities that can provide financial assistance. The chamber is also holding online virtual meetings and mixers where local business people can interact and share ideas.
“We have a lot of businesses that are thinking outside of the box to keep their businesses open,” said Victoria Gomez, an administrative assistant with the Hispanic Chamber, during a recent webinar. “If you’re a small business owner, you’re going to hustle. We see many businesses offering their services in different ways until we get back to some sort of normal.”